Category: Iowa History

Remembering the African-American Sioux City Ghosts Fast-Pitch Softball Team

Even though owners and players of Major League Baseball are at an impasse trying to negotiate a 2020 season, there are still some noteworthy “boys of summer” stories to share, thanks to Iowa history. Perhaps no team brought more excitement to Iowa farm towns and cities across the country than the Sioux City Ghosts, a legendary African American fast-pitch softball team that got its start nearly 100 years ago.

“The Sioux City Ghosts were a big deal across the nation and internationally,” said Haley Aguirre, archival records clerk with the Sioux City Public Museum, which preserves some of the Ghosts’ history.

Because of their pranks on the softball field, the Sioux City Ghosts were often compared to the famous Harlem Globetrotters. The Sioux City team’s exceptional athletic skills, winning record and razzle-dazzle style of playing generated a level of excitement few teams have matched.

The team stemmed from a boys’ club the West 7th Street neighborhood of Sioux City, which was home to many African-American homes and businesses. This boys’ club team started with about 40 members in 1925. Many of the boys were brothers, and most players thought of their team as a family. Soon after forming, they became Sioux City’s Junior League champions, according to siouxcityhistory.org.

As the team members grew up, they entered Sioux City’s Senior League and again won the championship game. As they became well known in Sioux City, they received sponsorship from local businessman Jack Page. They wore uniform shirts with the team name – Jack-The Cleaners, but had no uniform pants. Instead, they wore whatever they owned, from jeans to bib overalls.
With the sponsorship of Jack’s, the softball team began playing in the tri-state area, but mostly in Iowa. As they toured, the nation was falling deeper into the Great Depression. Baseball and softball helped people forget about the poor economy, if only for a little while.

The Sioux City team grew in popularity the more the players toured. By 1933, they were known as the Sioux City Ghosts. Henry “Fats” Fisher became their first manager. That same year they also had a new sponsor, Whitney Cleaners, along with new uniforms. The black shirts and pants featured an orange skull and crossbones logo, which became the symbols of the Ghosts.
In 1934, Fisher convinced the Ghosts to tour in California, but only after their Iowa tour was complete. The players were an immediate hit in California, thanks to a few improvised comedy routines on the field.

Sioux City Ghosts Lanesboro Iowa

Pitching style and substance
Starting in the early 1930s, the team began concentrating on the comedy routines and pranks for their games. One of the Ghosts’ favorite routines was shadowball. A Carroll Daily Times Herald article from July 12, 1962, described the spectacle.

“Of course, there is always the shadowball game, which has been performed in exactly the same manner since 1932. Not a play or a move changed in well over 3,000 exhibitions. The Ghosts divide into two teams and play a full inning of ball without a ball. The last two put-outs are made in slow motion and include a slow-motion slide into third base.”

The Ghosts were true showmen, sometimes pitching melons instead of softballs. They also rode bicycles in the outfield. Showcasing these stunts didn’t mean the Ghosts’ record suffered, though. They team often played the best amateur teams cities had, including farm leagues, all-star teams and state champions. The Ghosts won more than 2,000 games and lost less than 100 games during a 20-year span, noted siouxcityhistory.org. The Ghosts even challenged the Harlem Globetrotters’ softball team to a game, although the game was never played.

The Ghosts toured Canada and the western United States, playing in Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Francisco. Some of the Ghosts’ games attracted huge audiences. In Vancouver, Canada, 26,000 people came to watch the game.

While the Sioux City Ghosts were celebrated on the field, things were much different when the game was over. Many of the better players tried to move into the professional leagues, but couldn’t because they were black.

“The Ghosts actually didn’t play in a league,” Aguirre added. “They toured and basically played anyone who would get on the field with them. They faced substantial racism and prejudice, and were often at the mercy of those living in the towns they visited.”

The team broke up at the beginning of World War II when many of the players entered the armed forces. The Ghosts resumed playing as a team, however, after the war. While players from other teams were added from time to time, the Ghosts always remained a mostly Sioux City team.

Sioux City Ghosts softball teamLeaving a legacy
The Ghosts included a variety of beloved players through the years, including Richard “Sitting Bull” Fields, “Oatie” Fields, Riley Fields, Willie Lee, Glenn Smith, Lawrence Freeman, Floyd “Fuji” Fulton, Benny Hamilton, Jamie Hicks, Clarence “Darby” Hicks, Rudy Lee, Major Ray, Fred Tolson, Robert Green, Vivian Johnson, Clayton Johnson, Bob Metcalf, Sam Davis, J.C. “Cool Papa” Johnson, Valse “Mickey Mouse” Metcalf, George “Smokey Joe” Murphy, Harold “Speedy” Williams, Reginald “Cricket” Williams, Frank “Papa Be Kind” Williams, Sam Hays, Benny Hamilton, Les “Spook” Wilkinson and L.J. “Bambino” Favors.

“Favors was quite the ball player,” Aguirre said. “He joined the Ghosts in 1934 and also played for the Colored House of David, Sioux City’s colored baseball team. He was inducted into the Iowa Men’s State Softball Hall of Fame in 1975.”

Favors was mentioned in the article “Colored Ghosts at Lanesboro Saturday,” which ran in the July 12, 1962, issue of the Carroll Daily Times Herald.

“The greatest clown ever to tour with the original Ghosts is L.J. Compound Favors, who played with the first team in 1932 and still catches a few innings in most games,” noted the article, which promoted the “razzle-dazzle softball spectacular” slated for July 14 at 8:30 p.m. against the Lanesboro Merchants. “Favors, an ageless receiver, has shenanigans galore in his bag of tricks to confound both the opposition and the umpires. In addition, he keeps up a constant stream of chatter, which has the stands in a virtual uproar.”

While Favors and his teammates thrilled audiences into the early 1960s in small Iowa towns like Lanesboro, Lake Park, Hinton and other communities, times were changing. One big milestone came in 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by becoming the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball (MLB) after joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.

With the integration of MLB, all-black teams like the Sioux City Ghosts became less common. While the last Sioux City Ghosts player, Franklin Williams, died in 2007, the team’s legacy lives on, thanks to the Sioux City Museum and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which preserves some of the Sioux City Ghosts’ memorabilia.

“The Ghosts helped put Sioux City on the map and acted as ambassadors of Iowa across the nation and internationally,” Aguirre said.

Want more?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Shattering Silence: Farmer Helped Slave Find Freedom and Racial Equality in Iowa

How much is your freedom worth? In 1834, it was worth $550 for a slave named Ralph Montgomery, whose tumultuous story would involve hope for freedom, dashed dreams, bounty hunters, tremendous risk and a groundbreaking court decision that continues to inspire Iowans to shatter the silence on the volatile issue of racial inequality.

“He was born into slavery, a piece of property allowed only to serve others,” noted the article “Iowa Supreme Court’s First Case Freed a Slave,” which ran in 2015 in The Courier newspaper in Waterloo. “Even his name belonged to someone else.”

He came into the world as Rafe Nelson, probably in about 1795. But early on Nelson became Ralph Montgomery, named for his slave master in Virginia. After being taken to Kentucky by his owner and namesake, Ralph was described as “quite a chunk of a field hand” in his 20s. Despite that fact — or perhaps because of it—Ralph Montgomery, the slave master, sold his slave to a brother.

The new owner, William Montgomery, then sold Ralph in 1830 to a son, Jordan Montgomery. Newspaper accounts of the era described Jordan Montgomery as “kind and indulgent.”
Jordan Montgomery subsequently took Ralph to Palmyra, Mo., located northwest of Hannibal, the famed Mississippi River town. Ralph served his owner for about two years in Palmyra, which was roughly 60 miles south of the Iowa border.

“Here [at Palmyra], Ralph met a white man named Ellis Schofield, who had just returned from a trip to the Upper Mississippi region’s lead mining regions. He told such glowing tales of boundless wealth to be acquired there that Ralph became “seized with a burning desire to go and work out his own salvation,” according to the Janesville Gazette in Wisconsin.

Seeking freedom in Iowa
Jordan Montgomery and Ralph worked out a written agreement sometime around 1834 or 1835, where Ralph committed to pay $550, with interest, for his freedom. He traveled northward, “strong of purpose and light of heart,” according to a story in the Janesville Gazette in 1870.

Ralph went to work mining lead in Dubuque in the Iowa Territory. After five years, however, he hadn’t been able to repay the debt. The problem was the high cost of living. Ralph apparently struggled simply to pay room and board, according to historian Dorothy Schwieder, author of the book Iowa: The Middle Land.

At the same time, Jordan Montgomery experienced financial difficulties, struggling to repay a $4,000 bank loan. When two men from Virginia offered to return Ralph to his cash-strapped master in Missouri for a fee of $100. Jordan Montgomery wasn’t inclined to write off Ralph as bad debt, so he accepted the bounty hunters’ offer.

Shattered dreams
The Virginians swore an affidavit in front of a justice of the peace that Ralph was a fugitive. Court official ordered the local sheriff to assist the bounty hunters. The group found Ralph at his mineral claim, put him in handcuffs and loaded him onto a wagon.

Alexander Butterworth, variously described as a farmer, businessman, concerned eyewitness and noble-hearted Irishman in the Dubuque area, was plowing a nearby field and saw the kidnapping. Butterworth dashed to Dubuque to notify Thomas Wilson, an associate judge on the newly formed Supreme Court of the Territory of Iowa.

Let’s take it to court
Judge Wilson ordered the sheriff to follow the bounty hunters who had seized Ralph and return bring Ralph to Dubuque. Armed with a writ of habeas corpus and accompanied by the sheriff, Butterworth galloped to the rescue, noted historical accounts.

The Virginians had managed to get Ralph to Bellevue, Iowa, along the Mississippi River to board a riverboat that would transport him back to Missouri. Butterworth and the sheriff reached the dock just in time. They ordered the riverboat captain to return Ralph to Dubuque for a hearing before Judge Wilson.

Ralph’s case would turn out to be the first decided by the Territory of Iowa’s Supreme Court, which had been established in 1838 in Burlington. The court’s inaugural case was titled “In the matter if Ralph (a colored man), on Habeas Corpus.”

The legal question was whether Jordan Montgomery had a legitimate claim to demand Ralph’s return. Jordan Montgomery’s lawyers argued when Ralph relocated to the Iowa Territory, slavery was not specifically prohibited in Iowa under the so-called Missouri Compromise of 1820, since a local legislature had not taken additional action to ban it. Jordan Montgomery’s lawyers also claimed Ralph was a fugitive slave, since he had failed to fulfill his contract and should be returned to Missouri under conditions of the federal Fugitive Slave Act.

Ralph Montgomery’s attorney, David Rorer, argued that Ralph became a free man when, by consent of his master, Ralph moved to Iowa. Rorer, and rising star in the Iowa Territory, claimed that his client was neither a slave nor a fugitive, in part because he entered a contract “which presupposes a state of freedom.” Rorer also cited an English case in which it was ruled that a slave having lived in a free country could not be taken to another land that would again lead him into slavery. According to Rorer, the only obligation Ralph owed was to raise the $550 for his former owner in Missouri.

Rorer also cited Chapter 23 of the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible, which says, in part: “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you.”

Ruling delivered on Independence Day 1839
The Iowa Supreme Court conceded Ralph Montgomery should repay Jordan Montgomery — with one key stipulation. “It is a debt which he ought to pay, but for the non-payment of which no man in this territory can be reduced to slavery,” wrote Charles Mason, the first chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.

Mason concluded Ralph Montgomery “should be discharged from all custody and constraint, and be permitted to go free while he remains under the protection of our laws.” The Iowa Supreme Court declared Ralph Montgomery a free man on Independence Day, July 4, 1839.

In their opinion, the court justices wrote, “When, in seeking to accomplish his object, (the claimant) illegally restrains a human being of his liberty, it is proper that the laws, which should extend equal protection to men of all colors and conditions, should” intervene.

The unanimous ruling established the tradition in Iowa’s courts of ensuring the rights and liberties of all the people of the state. Years later, the state legislature adopted Iowa’s motto: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain,” which stands as a permanent reminder that the freedoms in this state are freedoms for all.

state of Iowa flag

What happened to Ralph?
Ralph Montgomery remained in Iowa for the rest of his life. According to the State Historical Society of Iowa, he showed up one day to work in Judge Wilson’s garden in 1840 (one year after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling in his favor). “I ain’t paying you for what you done for me,” Ralph said. “But I want to work for you one day every spring to show you that I never forget.”

Ralph Montgomery stayed in Dubuque the rest of his life, a free man. While not much is known about how he lived the remainder of his life, we do know he continued to mine lead and was a familiar figure around town. While the Dubuque Times in 1870 credited Ralph Montgomery with finding several valuable lodes, he eventually fell in hard times, either through being swindled or by gambling, according to conflicting accounts. During his later years, he lived in the county poor house, according to the Dubuque Times. He succumbed to smallpox, a disease he contracted while nursing a sick patient, during his time in Dubuque’s pest house. He died on July 23, 1870.

(A pest house, short for pestilence house, was a quarantine facility typically found throughout American communities in the late 1800s. Before the development of hospitals, people afflicted with communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox or typhus were placed in pest houses.)

Ralph was buried in the city cemetery which became in Jackson Park in later years, according to Encyclopedia Dubuque. When that cemetery was closed, Ralph’s remains were among those moved to Linwood Cemetery, where they were buried in a mass grave.

Ralph Montgomery’s case offered much different outcome than Dred Scott case
Eighteen years later, the lessons of Ralph Montgomery’s case seemed to be forgotten when Missouri slave Dred Scott pleaded his case for freedom in court. On March 6, 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision on Sanford v. Dred Scott, a case that intensified national divisions over the issue of slavery.

In 1834, Dred Scott, a slave, had been taken to Illinois, a free state, and then to the Wisconsin Territory, an area where the Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery. Scott lived in Wisconsin with his master, Dr. John Emerson, for several years before returning to Missouri, a slave state. In 1846, after Emerson died, Scott sued his master’s widow for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived as a resident of a free state and territory. He won his suit in a lower court, but the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the decision.

Dred Scott

Dred Scott

Scott appealed the decision. A federal court decided to hear the case on the basis of the diversity of state citizenship represented. After a federal district court decided against Scott, the case came on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was divided along slavery and antislavery lines; although the Southern justices had a majority.

During the trial, the antislavery justices used the case to defend the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise, which had been repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Southern majority responded by ruling on March 6, 1857, that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the territories. Three of the Southern justices also held that African Americans who were slaves or whose ancestors were slaves were not entitled to the rights of a federal citizen, and therefore had no standing in court.
These rulings all confirmed that, in the view of the nation’s highest court, under no condition did Dred Scott have the legal right to request his freedom. The Supreme Court’s verdict further inflamed the irrepressible differences in America over the issue of slavery, which in 1861 erupted with the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Shattering Silence
It would take the Civil War, the passage of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery and the civil rights’ movement of the mid-20th century to help create a more just America for everyone, regardless of race. The battle is not yet over, as evidenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality (in tragic cases such as the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May 2020) and the resulting civil unrest that has swept America.

Shattering Silence photo by Des Moines Public Art Foundation

Shattering Silence in Des Moines near Iowa Supreme Court (photo from Des Moines Public Art Foundation)

Even as racial-charged protests turned into riots in downtown Des Moines during the weekend of May 30-31, a 30-foot sculpture near the Iowa Supreme Court pointed to the hope that has endured in Iowa from the beginning.

“Shattering Silence,” which features a ring made of limestone quarried in Dubuque, was designed by artist James Ellwanger and installed in 2009 on the 170th anniversary of the Iowa Territory Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the Ralph Montgomery case. (Photo credit for the winter image of Shattering Silence that I used with this post goes to Jason Mrachnia.) 

The stunning sculpture stands at the top of the hill overlooking the Des Moines skyline. The Iowa Art Council has called the piece a commemoration of “those moments when Iowa has been at the forefront of breaking the silence of inequality and commemorates those Iowans who refused to stand by silently when they saw injustice.”

Former slave who made history in Iowa leaves powerful legacy
Back in Dubuque, local residents raised money in recent years to install a tombstone to honor Ralph Montgomery. On October 1, 2016, community leaders unveiled a monument to Ralph in the Linwood Cemetery to highlight Iowa’s ongoing role in shattering the silence on the issue of racial inequality.

“We are gathered today to honor a man who has brought such honor to this state by helping us discover not only who we were at that time, but who we would hope to become today,” said Mark Cady, former chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court who passed away in November 2019. “Ralph Montgomery suffered through the indignity of slavery to rise and stand against it and help forge a great meaning …of our collective belief in equality, both then and now.”

Ralph Montgomery marker Dubuque Iowa

Want more?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

The Corn Lady: Jessie Field Shambaugh and the Birth of 4-H in Iowa

Well-behaved women rarely make history. At a time when young girls in rural Iowa generally weren’t encouraged to broaden their knowledge of agriculture, Jessie (Field) Shambaugh chose to attend educational farm meetings with her father by the time she was 12 years old. She went on to become one of the first female ag teachers in the nation. By the time she was 24, she was elected superintendent of schools for Page County, Iowa. “The Corn Lady,” as she was affectionately known, also helped guide the formation of an innovative new learning opportunity that endures today–4-H–with the goal to “make the best better.”

Farm women have long broken new ground in rural Iowa. Jessie Field Shambaugh (sister of the famous nursery and garden innovator Henry Field) guided the formation of today’s 4-H clubs during her tenure as a country schoolteacher in southwest Iowa.

Born in 1881 on a farm near Shenandoah, Shambaugh started her career teaching taught country school in southwest Iowa. By the turn of the twentieth century, “Miss Jessie” was a woman far ahead of her time. An innovative teacher, she introduced basic science classes in addition to the “3 Rs” in the country school curriculum. She believed in teaching country children in terms of country life and was a strong proponent of relating school lessons more closely to life on the farm and in the rural home.

Jessie Field Shambaugh of Iowa

Jessie Field Shambaugh of Iowa

By developing the Boys’ Corn Club and the Girls’ Home Club, Miss Jessie created the forerunner of 4-H and became the first female ag teacher in the nation. Her knowledge of agriculture was extensive, as her father had encouraged her to learn about farming methods from the time she was a young girl. As early as age twelve, Miss Jessie attended local Farmers’ Institute meetings with her father and listened to presentations from ag leaders like “Uncle Henry” Wallace, who edited Wallaces’ Farmer.

Inspired by these ideas, Miss Jessie promoted hands-on, practical learning. She pioneered a powerful educational concept to help young people learn “to make the best better.” By age twenty-four, Miss Jessie had been elected superintendent of schools for Page County. She was one of the first female county superintendents in Iowa.

Starting in 1906, she enlisted the assistance of the 130 one-room country schools in the county to form boys’ and girls’ clubs. Miss Jessie encouraged the young people to participate in judging contests. She believed that friendly competition inspired students to excel. At the Junior Exhibits held at the Farmers’ Institute in Clarinda, entry classes for students included “Best 10 Ears of Yellow Dent Corn,” “Best Device Made by a Boy for Use on the Farm” and “Best 10 Ears of Seed Corn Selected by a Girl.”

Miss Jessie’s efforts gained national attention from educators and reporters. She hosted the U.S. Commissioner of Education and state superintendents as they toured Page County clubs in 1909. She designed the 3-leaf clover pin to reward 3-H project winners and wrote the Country Girls Creed. Jessie Field Shambaugh’s vision and pioneer spirit led to 4-H clubs nationwide, notes the Iowa 4-H Foundation. 

4H logo

4H logo

The goal was to “make the country life as rewarding as it might be in any other walk of life,” Miss Jessie noted in The Very Beginnings. While she passed away at age 90 in 1971, Shambaugh was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1977, and her legacy lives on.

“My mother always wanted to help the farm boys and girls,” said Miss Jessie’s daughter, Ruth Watkins of Clarinda, whom I interviewed in 2002. “She had great idealism and was able to carry it through to reality.”

This is the spirit that inspired me to post this on March 8–International Women’s Day (IWD). I’ve long been inspired by rural Iowa women like Miss Jessie, who were breaking new ground as they became a force for good in their local community, long before the first IWD, which dates back to 1911. I think Miss Jessie would agree with the IWD’s philosophy that “We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society.”

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. Miss Jessie’s story is just one of the remarkable women featured in Chapter 9, “Iowa Women Blaze New Trails in Agriculture,” in my upcoming book Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food, which will be release on April 27, 2020, by The History Press.

In the meantime, I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too. 

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

When Agriculture Entered the Long Depression in the Early 1920s

The culture of Iowa agriculture hasn’t only been shaped by good times. The farm crisis that started in the 1920s, a decade before the Great Depression engulfed America, shook rural Iowa to its core. In the post–World War I era, the Golden Age of Agriculture was over, and farmers throughout the Midwest began to suffer the effects of an increasing economic depression that culminated at the close of the 1920s with the stock market crash.

“To understand the nature of the agricultural problem more clearly, it needs to be said that farming is a difficult and uncertain profession,” noted Gary D. Dixon in his thesis “Harrison County, Iowa: Aspects of Life from 1920 to 1930,” which he presented in 1997 to the Department of History to earn his Master of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska–Omaha. “The farmer has no control over the prices he pays for goods or, more importantly, for what he can ask for his own products, as he ‘buys in a seller’s market, and he sells in a buyer’s market.”

Wesells Living History Farm WW1

Wesells Living History Farm WW1

It was definitely a seller’s market during World War I, when all sectors of the American economy produced as much as possible to help the war effort. It was profitable, as well as patriotic, to raise crops at top capacity. But then the war ended on November 11, 1918.

“Government price supports for agriculture were kept through 1920, when the guaranteed prices on wheat and other crops were terminated,” Dixon noted. “The government ended loans to European nations at the same time, which meant they were unable to purchase U.S. agricultural products.”

This is what had kept the exports going, and exports had driven the boom in the U.S. farm economy. In the years just after World War I, prices for farm goods fell by half, as did farmer income. The Federal Reserve raised the credit rate just when the farmer needed its help the most, so money tightened up. Banks did not renew notes, but mortgages and bills still came due. To make it worse, the railroads raised their freight rates, so it was more expensive to get the crops to market, Dixon noted.

Farm income fell from $17.7 billion in 1919 to $10.5 million in 1921—nearly a 41 percent drop. In Iowa, farm values that had almost tripled between 1910 and 1920 plunged during the 1920s. In Harrison County in southwest Iowa, 1930 land values of $41 million reflected a drop of more than $35 million from 1920, Dixon said. In addition, Harrison County’s total crop values, which in 1919 were more than $10.8 million, fell to roughly $5.7 million by 1924. “Taxes on the remaining income, and the other expenses incurred in farming, remained as high as they ever were, or increased,” Dixon added.

While there had been a historic growth in the number and size of farms in the nation until 1920, that soon changed. Then the farm population showed net losses of 478,000 in 1922 and 234,000 in 1923. The more lucrative prospects of the city lured many of the best of the younger generations away, Dixon said.

Iowa farm,  1920s  Source: Library of Congress

Iowa farm, 1920s Source: Library of Congress

Banding Together in Farmer Cooperatives
In response to these troubling developments, some farmers began organizing with their neighbors so their shared concerns could be heard at the county, state and national level. Some turned to groups like the Iowa Farmers Union, which had formed in 1915 to help members work together to strengthen the independent family farm through education, legislation and cooperation.

Others turned to a new group, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF), which had formed on December 27, 1918, during a meeting in Marshalltown. The sSeventy-two county Farm Bureau groups from across Iowa voted unanimously during this meeting to form a state federation. These farmers knew that they needed a stronger voice in legislation governing their industry, improved marketing for their ag products and better relationships with other related industries, including meatpackers and the railroads.

“We regard this movement as one of the most sensible efforts toward an organization of farmers that has yet been made,” said Henry A. Wallace, the editor of Wallaces’ Farmer, who went on to become U.S. secretary of agriculture and vice president of the United States.

The IFBF also helped support the cooperative marketing movement that had been gaining momentum, noted Tim Neiss, IFBF historian. Ag cooperatives had started to form in Iowa by the mid-1800s in response to unfair business practices by the railroads that hurt competition and lowered the prices farmers received for their products. Farmers began banding together to market their products more efficiently, at higher prices, as well as to buy inputs at lower cost.

One of these early Iowa cooperatives was Farmers Cooperative Elevator of Marcus, which was incorporated on December 12, 1887. The Marcus location, which is now part of First Cooperative Association based in Cherokee, remains the oldest active cooperative elevator in the nation.

While organizing into farm organizations and cooperatives appealed to some farmers, other farmers decided to move in a much more radical direction—one of that would culminate in the Farmers Holiday movement and the near-lynching of an Iowa judge in Le Mars. Get the whole story in my book Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food, which is published by The History Press the week of April 27, 2020.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

Iowa’s “Peacemaker Pig” Floyd of Rosedale Helped Calm Racial Tensions

If you follow college football in the Midwest, especially if you’re a University of Iowa Hawkeye football fan, you may know the story of Floyd of Rosedale. A bronze statue of the pig, Floyd of Rosedale, is exchanged between the two states. The original pig himself came from Rosedale Farms at Fort Dodge in north-central Iowa.

The whole deal emerged from a bet between Iowa Governor Clyde Herring and Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson about the outcome of the 1935 Iowa-Minnesota football game, but this story involves something much deeper than a famous pig and a bronze trophy.

The problem started the previous year, on Saturday, October 27, 1934, when rough play was directed towards one Iowa Hawkeye running back, Ozzie Simmons. Simmons was a rarity in that era: a black player on a major college football team. Dubbed the “ebony eel” by some sportswriters of the era, Simmons had come north to play football when he wasn’t allowed to play football in his home state of Texas, due to his race.

America in the 1930s included Jim Crow laws in southern states, which segregated blacks from whites. In northern states, no such laws existed, but discrimination was still widespread.

Simmons’ talent couldn’t be denied, however, and he attracted the attention of a young Iowa sports broadcaster perched high above the field. That broadcaster, who would become President Ronald Reagan, became an Ozzie Simmons fan, noted Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), which aired the story “The Origin of Floyd of Rosedale” in 2005. Reagan described a trademark Simmons’ move during a telephone interview with legendary Iowa sports broadcaster Jim Zabel of WHO Radio in Des Moines.

“Ozzie would come up to a man, and instead of a stiff-arm or sidestep or something, Ozzie — holding the football in one hand — would stick the football out,” Reagan said. “And the defensive man just instinctively would grab at the ball. Ozzie would pull it away from him and go around him.”

There were no dazzling runs against Minnesota, however, in the 1934 game at Iowa. Simmons was knocked out three times, leaving the game for good by halftime. The Gophers overwhelmed Simmons and the rest of the Iowa team, beating them 48-12.

While Minnesota went on to win the national championship that year, Iowa fans at the game were outraged by how Minnesota played, in Iowa City claiming the defense deliberately went after Iowa Simmons hard. (Just 11 years earlier, Iowa State’s first black athlete, Jack Trice, died of injuries sustained in a game at Minnesota in 1923.)

How Floyd of Rosedale was born
In 1935, the Rosedale Trophy debuted in an attempt to generate some goodwill between the two schools. Ahead of the 1935 game, Herring warned Minnesota not to pull the same stunts it did the year before. “If the officials stand for any rough tactics like Minnesota used last year, I’m sure the crowd won’t,” Herring said.

Olson sent a telegram to Governor Herring to assure him that the Minnesota team would tackle clean. To help calm the growing tension ahead of the next Minnesota-Iowa football game, Olson also went on to say that he would bet a prize pig from Minnesota against a prize pig from Iowa that Minnesota would win the big game. The loser would have to deliver the pig in person.

“Dear Clyde,” stated Olson’s telegram to Herring. “Minnesota folks are excited over your statement about the Iowa crowd lynching the Minnesota football team. If you seriously think Iowa has any chance to win, I will bet you a Minnesota prize hog against an Iowa prize hog that Minnesota wins today.”

The Iowa governor accepted, and what became known as the Floyd of Rosedale prize was born. Herring apparently followed Olson’s cue. He joked it would be hard to find a prize hog in Minnesota, since they all were so “scrawny.”

Floyd of Rosedale trophy

Floyd of Rosedale trophy

Word of the bet reached Iowa City as the crowd gathered at the stadium. Things calmed down, and the game proceeded without incident. Minnesota won 13-7.

The prize pig from Iowa was a Hampshire boar, black with a white belt. He was later named the Floyd of Rosedale after Minnesota’s governor. In the week following the big game, Herring delivered the live pig to the Minnesota Capitol building in St. Paul and took Floyd inside to meet Olson.

After the hog’s trophy days were over, Floyd spent his remaining days on a farm in southeast Minnesota. Floyd died of hog cholera in July 1936, about eight months after he made the front page. The real Floyd, Governor Olson, passed away less than a month later, dying of cancer in August 1936.

(Ironically, Floyd the hog wasn’t the only celebrity in his family. Floyd of Rosedale was the brother of another famous boar, Blue Boy, who had appeared in the 1933 movie “State Fair.”)

Leaving a legacy
All these years later, the famous Floyd of Rosedale endures as one of college football’s most famous trophies. Floyd of Rosedale’s legacy is also preserved in a marker by the Rosedale Rapids Aquatic Center in Fort Dodge.

Simmons, whose story prompted the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, never took much interest in the trophy, in part because of the era of racial discrimination it recalled. He was denied a chance to play professional football, because the National Football League banned black players at the time, noted MPR. He played some minor league ball, joined the Navy and eventually became a Chicago public school teacher.

“When Ozzie Simmons stepped onto the field in October, 1934, to play Minnesota, he entered a national drama that’s still playing out today,” MPR noted. “All Simmons wanted was a chance. The trophy is an ever-present reminder of how precious that right is.”

Want more stories like this?
These are the kinds of stories I’m sharing in my new book, “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food,” which was released by The History Press on Monday, April 27, 2020.  Order your signed copy by clicking here to my online store. 

One more thing–the story of illegal gambling

After I posted this story, I received this intriguing email from my friend Victoria Herring of Des Moines:

“You may remember coming to Artisan Gallery 218 to do book talks. I was reading your website about the Floyd of Rosedale story – apparently appearing in an upcoming book. I assume you know there’s a bit more to the story == I think George Mills wrote about it in one of his books == when this happened some guy [whose name I forget but he was a bit of a thorn in the side of some public figures] filed a criminal complaint against Gov. Herring [he was my grandfather] alleging illegal betting — might be an interesting even if a little off topic addition.”

I pulled out a copy of George Mills’ classic book, Looking in Windows: Surprising Stories of Old Des Moines, and saw exactly what Victoria was talking about. In the second called “A Governor Arrested,” Mills explained how a gadfly named Virgil Case in Des Moines got a warrant for Governor Herring’s arrest following the Floyd of Rosedale 1935 bet. The charge? Gambling on a hog wager.

At the time, Iowa law provided a penalty of up to a $100 fine or 30 days in jail for gambling. Municipal Judge J.E. Mershon signed the warrant.

Who was Case and why did he go to all this trouble? He was a “natural-born hell raiser,” wrote Mils, who added that Case had been a secretary to a Des Moines mayor and publisher of a weekly newspaper.

Case explained how he happened to file the charge. He said he had some spare time, and it occurred to him a “good way to put in that time was to go over to Municipal Court and have the governor arrested. So that’s what I did.” He said his profession was “raising hell with public officials because they should be the first to set a good example.”

Word of the warrant reached Herring while he was still with Minnesota Governor Olson in Minneapolis. Herring immediately engaged Olson as his attorney. Olson squelched a suggestion that the pig be auctioned off to pay a possible Herring fine.  “That pig stays in Minnesota, regardless of what happens,” Olson declared. He added that the bet wasn’t a gamble anyway, since Minnesota was a cinch to win the game.

Olson suggested that Herring stay in St. Paul, where he couldn’t be extradited, since the Minnesota governor had to consent to the extradition, and Olson was already Herring’s attorney. Herring observed that only the governor of Iowa could extradite anyone back to Iowa–and he was the governor of Iowa.

“Olson added a sly insult when he said it wasn’t gambling because ‘nothing of value was involved,'” Mills wrote. Herring shot back that Floyd of Rosedale was a “right good hog.”

Walter Brick, deputy municipal court bailiff, cause a stir of excitement at the Iowa statehouse a few days later. When he showed up at Herring’s office, reporters thought maybe he was there to lead the governor away in handcuffs. Nope. Brick just wanted to talk over a planned court hearing on the charge.

The only action the deputy took that day was to join the reporters in eating apples out of Herring’s fruit basket. (“Beside apples, Herring was known at times to shut the door and provide the press with beer and Pella bologna, something no governor has done since,” Mills wrote.)

In the hearing, reporters and others testified that Herring hadn’t committed the so-called offense in Des Moines, that the bet wasn’t complete until Herring and Olson met in Iowa City. Assistant Polk County Attorney C. Edwin Moore, later chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, moved that the case be dismissed. Judge Mershon was glad to do so. “The folderol was over,” Mills concluded.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

Independence, Iowa’s Connection to the Titanic and Carpathia

It’s amazing how many Iowans have ties to the Titanic, even all these years after the great ship sank. During a program at the Independence Public Library in June 2019, a lady named Ann Gitsch from Independence approached me following the program. As soon as she mentioned she had a relative on the Carpathia who helped rescue Titanic survivors, she had my total attention.

Ann mentioned that her family was from Northumberland in northeast England, and her grandmother, Wynanda Purvis was an aunt to Robbie Purvis, who was a steward on the Carpathia. Robbie Purvis was working on the Carpathia when the steamship rescued passengers from the Titanic during the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.

As Gitsch told me about Purvis, she handed me a copy of an unnamed publication with an article titled “Alnwick Schoolboy’s Experience.” (Alnwick is a town in Northumberland, England.)
The following article was taken from a 1912 letter Purvis wrote to his parents, including Mr. R. Purvis of Battery Hostel, Alnmouth, in northern England, following the Titanic disaster. The news article promised to be “of special interest to those were his [Purvis’s] schoolmates at the Duke’s School:”

Survivors from the Titanic row towards the Carpathia

Survivors from the Titanic row towards the Carpathia

We have reached Gibraltar at last after the most eventful voyage I have ever experienced. I suppose you have seen the papers about the Carpathia getting the Marconi message which was sent from the Titanic before she went down. The captain got the message at 12:15. All the crew were in bed, so he sent down the chief steward to call all the stewards and stewardesses. At first the men would not get up. They thought it was just some boat drill they were wanted for, but they got up quick enough when they heard exactly what had happened—that the Titanic was sinking, and that the Carpathia had turned around and was going as hard as she could to assist her.

We got all together in the dining saloon, and the chief steward told us exactly what to do. Some were sent to carry blankets, other to lay up tables and make coffee, and some to man the boats in case they should be lowered.

I have an oar in Number 12 boat. We had the ship ready to receive 2,800 passengers by half past two. We got the first boat [from the Titanic] at 4 in the morning full of women and children. There were all nearly mad with cold. There was only two men in the boat—one a sailor who had gone mad. We hauled them all up the ship’s side with ropes tied around them and the children in canvas bags. We picked the last boat up at ? o’clock [newsprint here was illegible] and took altogether 780 persons safely on board. [Purvis’ count wasn’t quite accurate. Later accounts reported that Carpathia rescued 705 survivors from the Titanic, and rescue efforts were completed by 8:30 a.m. on Monday, April 15, 1912.]

We took eight dead bodies out of the boat and buried them at sea. We did not take any dead bodies into New York.

We came quite close to the iceberg which the Titanic struck. It was about a mile long and 100 feet high. There were plenty of bergs scattered about, but none so big as this one. We had to come right through amongst them in the dark looking for lifeboats. We sailed exactly over the spot where the Titanic went down, just a dark patch on the water with deck chairs and cushions and dead bodies (some babies) all floating about amongst the wreckage. It was a heart-rending sight.

When we got to New York, we had about 200 boats down to meet us, two American battleships amongst them. Men were down taking moving pictures of the ship docking, and of the Titanic’s passengers leaving her [the Carpathia]. Several of the passengers we brought back wanted to give us dinner, but the captain would not let us leave the ship, as we were sailing as soon as we could get coal in.

I am sending you an account of the wreck written by myself. I must now draw to a close, as I have no time for more now. I remain, etc., Robbie

Carpathia rescue ship

Carpathia rescue ship

Iceberg “glistening in the morning sun like a tombstone”
Printed in this same newspaper, beneath Purvis’s letter, was a small section called “Notes from Carpathia,” which contained more details that Purvis jotted down:

“The Carpathia reached the scene of the disaster at 4 a.m. Everything was still. Lifeboats were scattered about the horizon, crowded with half-frozen, lamenting women and children, whose dear ones had been so ruthlessly snatched from them. A giant iceberg loomed up, glistening in the morning sun like a tombstone. A huge dark patch on the icy water with many bodies mingled with wreckage, marked the spot where the ill-fated Titanic went down.

Bodies floated about among the wreckage. Some were those of women and children, others of weather-beaten sailors, whose horny fingers had grasped a floating spar till God had relieved them of their sufferings. The Carpathia sailed on around the scene of the disaster, the dark, icy water lapping against her iron sides, as if mocking her for being too late.”

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator. My new non-fiction book, “Iowa’s Lost History on the Titanic,” will be coming out in 2019. In the meantime, click here to get a taste of the fascinating stories you’ll find in this book.

Iowa's Lost History on the Titanic book

Iowa’s Lost History on the Titanic book–coming soon!

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

 

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

1912 news clipping sharing Robbie Purvis’ Titanic story

Senator Grassley on Farming: Any Society is Only Nine Meals Away From a Revolution

When people ask about my latest book project and I tell them about Iowa’s Ag History, I get two reactions: either a blank stare, or “Oh cool!” When I reached out to Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a farmer, to share a few comments for the book, I received more than an enthusiastic response.

I got an incredible interview from a senator who was willing to offer a significant portion of his time to share his insights into the importance of history, agriculture and rural Iowa’s role in the modern global economy. Read on to see why Sen. Grassley says, “I like to remind policymakers that any society is only nine meals away from a revolution.”

When did your family start farming in Iowa? 

I am the second generation farmer in my family, following in the footsteps of my father Louis Grassley. His dad emigrated from Germany and died when my dad was just seven years old. At around age 18, my dad started working as a hired hand for the Heitland family on a farm in Hardin County. A few years later, he rented some land near New Hartford in Butler County. In 1927, he and my mother Ruth purchased their own parcel of land.

After graduating from high school, I worked in factories, attended college and farmed with my dad. In 1958, while running for the Iowa legislature and working towards my doctorate at the University of Iowa, I started farming my own piece of the family farm. When my dad passed away in 1960, I rented his 80 acres and about five years later, purchased 120 acres on my own.

When I started out, I grew a bit of everything like most farmers at the time. I grew corn, soybeans, oats and alfalfa and raised sheep, cattle and hogs. My son Robin Grassley, a third-generation farmer, and I continue farming 750 acres together. He rents and owns other farmland along with my grandson Pat Grassley, who is a fourth-generation family farmer.

Barbara and I raised our five children together on our farm near New Hartford, and we enjoy passing on our agrarian heritage and celebrate family gatherings here with our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

In politics as in farming, a solid understanding of the past is vital to understand current issues. From your unique viewpoint as a senator and a farmer, what’s your take about why it’s important to be well-versed in history–and what are the perils of not knowing history?

As a lifelong farmer who also has worked for six decades representing Iowans in state and federal government, I wear my rural roots as a badge of honor and believe it’s important for farmers to have a seat at the policy-making tables. Farmers take the long view of things, and maybe that’s why they don’t forget important lessons from history.

Only two percent of the American population shoulders the responsibility for growing enough food to feed the U.S. population. Our agrarian-based heritage has experienced rapid transformation in the last generation. Fewer Americans, even in Iowa, have a direct link to living or working on a farm. And most likely due to the affordable abundance of food, not enough people appreciate that food security is directly tied to national security. Food security extends beyond national sovereignty. American agriculture – and the farmers, workers and businesses along the supply chain – anchors the U.S. economy and increasingly strengthens U.S. energy independence, as well.

From a historical perspective, there are two rules of thumb I use to explain how important food security is to maintain peace and prosperity in society. As Emperor of France in the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte reportedly said “to be effective, an army relies on good and plentiful food.” In other words, an army marches on its stomach. Food security ensures a nation can feed its military, whose men and women in uniform are deployed to protect and defend a nation’s sovereignty, at home and abroad. I also like to remind policymakers that any society is only nine meals away from a revolution.

Political leaders who embrace the misguided notion that socialism is the answer to peace and prosperity are either grossly misinformed or willfully ignorant about the peril of leaders who promise to fix “inequality” with government control. Just look at the economic crisis in Venezuela, once one of the most prosperous nations in the Western Hemisphere. The poverty and humanitarian crisis falls squarely in the hands of the nation’s authoritarian regime and its ideologically driven policies. History teaches us that when government suppresses freedom and liberty, the people’s path towards peace and prosperity is replaced with food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation, power outages and even more economic and social inequality.

History teaches us other important lessons. Namely, how not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Don’t forget, the overly harsh tariffs in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1932 shut down world trade, led to a worldwide economic depression and foretold a world war that killed tens of millions of people.

Another important lesson I keep in mind at the policy-making tables is the 1980s farm crisis. The loss of thousands of family farms was a heart-wrenching loss for so many families and long-time neighbors across Iowa. It stole a sense of vitality from small towns and rural communities. It arguably steered away a generation of beginning farmers from following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. The farm crisis invigorated my advocacy on behalf of young and beginning farmers, including my work to push for robust enforcement of anti-trust laws and oversight of mergers and competition in the agriculture industry. Previously, I’ve introduced legislation that would have amended the Packers and Stockyards Act to make it illegal for a packer to own, feed or control livestock intended for slaughter. I’ll keep my oversight hat on to protect the integrity of the marketplace so that independent producers have a fair shake at a fair price for their commodities.

I also led efforts to enact and make permanent Chapter 12 in the federal bankruptcy code. This unique chapter is designed to help farmers and ranchers who have fallen on hard times to survive bankruptcy and restructure their debts without losing their livelihood. Most recently, I secured an update to Chapter 12 to fix court rulings that undermined congressional intent. Previously, the IRS muscled its way to the front of the creditor’s line to scoop up capital gains taxes and potentially block a farmer’s reorganization plans. Farmers shouldn’t be penalized for being asset-rich and cash-poor. When they need to reorganize debts to hold on to their livelihoods, my reforms ensure they aren’t going to be slapped with a big tax bill and lose the ability to continue farming.

Another way I advocate for family farmers at the policy-making tables is my longstanding efforts to restore fiscal integrity to the farm safety net. In our free market society, farmers ought to be able to decide how large or small they want their operation to be. However, the farm safety net shouldn’t be manipulated for operations to grow at taxpayer expense. It’s very important to uphold the credibility and strengthen the public trust in the farm safety net, as well. That’s why I will continue my efforts to attach reasonable payment limits so that off-site managers, including nieces, nephews, cousins and other family members who aren’t actually contributing to the operation of the farm, are prevented from cashing in on farm payments.

In 2019, I launched my 39th consecutive year holding meetings in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. I keep in close touch with Iowans and count on this dialogue to make representative government work. I also apply the lessons of history to inform my work on making better policies and fixing laws that create unintended consequences. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has oversight and legislative jurisdiction over international trade, I’m currently working to reform a 1962 federal law that delegated authority to the executive branch. Specifically, Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act authorizes the president to impose tariffs on selected imports if the chief executive determines those imports pose a threat to our national security.

This law was enacted with good intentions and for good reason. However, history has shown that reforms are necessary in order to give Congress a role in the process. In my view, Congress delegated too much authority to the executive branch at the expense of the people’s branch. American agriculture too often shoulders the burden of retaliatory action from our trade partners. It’s another example of why I always check the rear-view mirror to ensure the road ahead paves the way for prosperity and opportunity for family farmers and all those who earn their livelihoods and enjoy their way of life in Rural America.

What are some of the biggest changes in Iowa agriculture you’ve seen and experienced in your lifetime?

Technology and innovation have revolutionized farming as we know it. Mechanization allows an individual farmer to dramatically improve productivity and harvest bin-busting yields grown from disease-resistant seeds, for example. At the same time, farmers are able to conserve resources and save money using no-till, cover crops and precision agriculture. As a first-generation farmer, my dad used a team of horses when he started farming. Like many family farmers, the genetic code of fiscal discipline, conservation and ingrained work ethic was handed down to me from my parents’ experience carving out a living from the land. In my case, the Grassley household and farming operation was influenced by the Great Depression, to conserve resources and stretch every penny.

To this day, I carry a lifelong code of conservatism with me as a farmer and lawmaker. Although innovation – including WiFi-enabled farms and climate-controlled tractor cabs — hasn’t shortened the work day for most farmers, it’s certainly transformed productivity and changed the way we market our crops and livestock. When I started farming on my own in the 1950s, the average corn yield in Iowa was about 45 bushels/acre. Today Iowa farmers yield an average of 202 bushels/acre. This productivity helps feed and fuel a growing world population with affordable, wholesome food and renewable energy. So increased productivity has been revolutionary.

Another significant change is farmers are affected by worldwide market forces. That means a farmer in the 21st century must be able to survive not just the whims of Mother Nature, but also the winds of geo-political negotiations and foreign policy that impact exports and a farmer’s bottom line.

Ag literacy should be part of education, in my opinion, for any Iowa student. In your opinion, how does a basic understanding of agriculture benefit all Iowans, both rural and urban?

No matter what policy we may be debating in Congress, I often find the best way to sum up the debate boils down to this: Washington is an island surrounded by reality. As a farmer-lawmaker on the Senate Agriculture Committee, I bring a dirt-underneath-my-fingernails perspective to the policy-making tables. I take pride serving as a champion for rural America to advocate for our nation’s food producers and farm families. With only two percent of the population growing food for the rest of the nation, it’s more important than ever to educate consumers about where their food comes from. In fact, I often suggest that many Americans are under the mistaken impression that food grows in grocery stores, restaurants or take-out containers. I’m glad to see more and more farmers’ markets becoming a vital part of local communities. It’s good for the local economy and community vitality and fosters better awareness that food does not grow on the grocery store shelf.

With a global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, the importance of agriculture research and education is vital for human civilization. Iowa’s deeply rooted agrarian heritage continues to lead the way with excellent opportunities to foster ag literacy, food, plant and animal science and entrepreneurship. Iowa boasts a vibrant network of FFA organizations across the state. What’s more, Iowa’s native son Norman Borlaug paved an agricultural revolution credited with saving a billion people from starvation. The Father of the Green Revolution was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970 and Iowa celebrates his legacy with a statue in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Iowa is also home to the World Food Prize. Since 1987 the World Food Prize Foundation has celebrated the achievements of individuals inspired by the legacy of Dr. Borlaug. Each year it awards individuals whose contributions have improved the global food supply, from plant, animal and soil science to technology and nutrition and rural development. For three decades, it has brought thousands of people from around the world to Des Moines in October to talk about food security in a symposium known as the Borlaug Dialogue.

Anything else you’d like to add about the importance of knowing history in general and the history of agriculture in Iowa in particular?

Iowans may know I love history. In today’s polarized world of identity politics, it’s important more than ever to strengthen civic education in America’s classrooms. Our youngest members of society need to understand the perils of communism, fascism and socialism. Regimes inspired by utopian socialist principles do not eradicate hunger or poverty, they extinguish peace and prosperity at the expense of individual freedom and liberty.

Despite the regional, ideological and partisan differences that divide Americans, we share a common humanity and fundamental thread of human existence. We all need to eat to survive. And I’m proud to be among the generations of Iowa farmers who have answered the vocational calling to put food on family tables. As a steward of the soil and U.S. Senator for Iowa, I am honored to serve as a voice for agriculture and rural America.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2019 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby. 

Barn Helped Inspire Master Craftsman to Create Dobson Pipe Organ Builders

When a sow kicked a heat lamp into the straw one cold January night in 1954 and burned down the barn on the Carroll County farm where Lynn Dobson’s family lived, no one imagined how much impact the blaze would have. It became a defining moment for Dobson, however, even though he was only four years old at the time.

“When the barn was rebuilt that summer, I wanted to be out working with the carpenters all the time,” said Dobson, founder of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd. of Lake City, which constructs fine pipe organs for churches, universities and other clients. “The carpenters told my mom they didn’t mind, and they even gave me small tools to ‘work’ with, including a hammer and screwdriver.”

Once the Wilson brothers from Farnhamville completed the new barn, they were hired each summer to work on other construction and remodeling jobs for various outbuildings at the Jasper Township farm. “These construction projects were a highlight of growing up on the farm,” said Dobson, who also learned carpentry skills from his father, Elmer, who was a cabinetmaker as well as a farmer. “My imagination was fired up.”

“They feel like cathedrals”
Dobson admits he enjoyed building things much more than farming. That didn’t mean he didn’t have his share of chores to do on the farm, however. His father liked raising livestock, so there were usually eight to 10 milk cows to care for, along with feeder calves, hogs and chickens. In fact, the barn was built for milk cows, said Dobson, who noted that Bill Troxel from Lanesboro picked up milk from the farm.

Lynn Dobson designs grand pipe organs that grace churches in small towns like Lake City, Iowa, to cathedrals in New York City.

The barn also housed stock cattle. Dobson will never forget the little bull calf that had to be bucket fed after its mother died. “He had always been so gentle, but one night he decided to pin me against the barn. His horns pushed into the wall and his head was right against me. I never had to feed him again after that.”

Other activities inside the barn were much less threatening. Dobson enjoyed playing in the barn with his sisters and building forts in the straw bales. Sometimes he climbed the ladder that extended to the peak of the roof. “I’d catch little pigeons and try to tame them and raise them as pets,” he said.

The barn was always a hub of activity, Dobson added. While Elmer Dobson phased out of the dairy business in the early 1960s, he continued raising hogs and farrowed sows in the barn. He maintained his livestock operation for many years until he and his wife, Muriel, retired and moved to Lake City in the early 1980s.

After Dobson graduated from Glidden High School in 1967, he studied art at Wayne State College in Nebraska, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1971. In 1974, he established Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, which recently designed, built and installed a customized pipe organ for the 2014 observance of the 750th anniversary of the founding of Merton College at Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

In a way, the inspiration to create this massive organ, known as Opus 91, can be traced to the Carroll County barn that captured Dobson’s interest as a boy. “Barns are grand buildings, and I’m inspired by their magnificent spaces,” he said. “They feel like cathedrals inside.”

Pipe organ builder hits a high note
Note from Darcy: I wrote this feature below on Dobson Pipe Organ builders in 2013. 

Donald Hobbs, a long-time employee at Dobson Pipe Organ Builders in Lake City, helps create the masterpieces that the company builds for clients worldwide.

A former John Deere shop has housed Dobson PIpe Organ Builders for years in Lake City, Iowa.

The journey that started on a farm near Lake City has taken an Iowa pipe-organ company international, thanks to the creative vision and entrepreneurial skills of Lynn Dobson.

Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd. designed, built and installed a customized pipe organ for the 2014 observance of the 750th anniversary of the founding of Merton College at Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world. “It’s very unusual for American organ builders to send organs to Europe,” said Dobson, who noted that construction on the organ started in 2011. “It hardly ever happens.”

Made of quarter-sawn white oak from the southern United States, this masterpiece (known as Opus 91) rises 46 feet tall, stretches 26 feet wide, weighs about 16 tons and features hand-carved designs. It also contains nearly 3,000 pipes, which range in size from a drinking straw to a telephone pole.

Opus 91 is a 52-rank mechanical key action organ, which means that there are mechanical links that directly connect each of the keys to valves under the pipes. This kind of organ was created before the advent of electricity and generally is preferred among premier organists.

While this is Dobson Organ’s first overseas project, the company had built 90 organs since 1974 before creating “Opus 91” for Merton College. “We’ve never built the same organ twice,” said Dobson, the company’s president and artistic director.

Organ building, like many centuries-old crafts, is becoming increasingly rare. Companies like Dobson’s are even fewer, with an estimated half dozen nationwide. As I look back at the last 40 years of my life, organ building was a good career for me. It gave me a chance to be creative and work with many creative people over the years. I’ve also had the chance to travel and see and do an almost unimaginable variety of things that I realize have made my life a very satisfying one. Dobson grew up on a farm south of Lake City, where he learned about woodworking from his father, a skilled carpenter and cabinetmaker. While attending Nebraska’s Wayne State College, studying art and industrial education, Dobson tinkered with an old, non-working pipe organ in the college administration building. By the time he left, it was playable.

This inspired him to start his own company, which started as a two-man operation and has grown to include 19 skilled employees. They include voicers, pipe makers, cabinetmakers and general organ builders who work in a 1890s-vintage shop located on Lake City’s city square. The company has built about 20 new organs for customers in Iowa, including the Lake City Union Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines and the First Reformed Church in Orange City. The firm has restored an additional 20 organs across Iowa.

Dobson’s reputation has also earned the company acclaim across the United States. Some of the company’s largest projects include the organs at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia and St Thomas’ Church, New York City.

“I think every day is more exciting,” Dobson said. Even though the economy and a changing cultural and religious climate are great challenges for us in the organ building field the fact is we’re still able to be creative and work with good people. What could be better than that?

Dobson organ pipes can be as tiny as a pencil to produce the higher notes, and up to 40 feet tall (with pipes weighing 500 pounds) to produce the low notes. Pipes can be made of metal or wood. As shown here, the pipes’ coating, which keeps the solder on the seams, is washed off to expose the shiny pipes once the process is complete.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby. 

It’s Time to Be 20 Again: Take a Road Trip on Historic Highway 20

It’s a quest that’s decades in the making. When hundreds of people gathered in Holstein on October 19, 2018, for a ribbon-cutting celebrating the completion of U.S. Highway 20 as a four-lane thoroughfare across Iowa, the focus on the future was intertwined with the history of this remarkable road–which offers the perfect route for a road trip.

“Highway 20 is the longest highway in America, spanning 3,365 miles from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport, Oregon,” said Bryan Farr, founder and president of non-profit Historic US Route 20 Association, which promotes travel along the original 1926 alignment of US Route 20. “Modern travelers aren’t always aware of Highway 20. We want to make it a tourist destination like Route 66.”

Highway 20 passes through 12 states, including Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. “A lot of interesting things have happened along the highway, from Puritan New England to the Wild West,” said Farr, who shared stories of history, presidents, natural wonders, quirky roadside attractions and more connected to Highway 20 during his program “Historic U.S. Route 20: A Journey Across America’s Longest Highway” on Oct. 14 to a large crowd at the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center.

But first things first—is 20 a highway or a route?

“It depends on where you’re from,” said Farr, who grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York state and now lives in Chester, Massachusetts. “If you’re from Massachusetts, New York or Pennsylvania, you pronounce it ‘Root’ 20. If you’re from Ohio, Indiana or Illinois you say, ‘Route 20.’ If you’re west of the Mississippi River, it’s Highway 20.”

Bryan Farr, founder and president of non-profit Historic US Route 20 Association

Bryan Farr is the founder and president of non-profit Historic US Route 20 Association, which promotes travel along the original 1926 alignment of US Route 20.

History happened here
The remarkable history of Highway 20 started with the passing of the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which appropriated $75 million for road construction throughout the country. The roads that would become Highway 20 were officially designated during the summer of 1925, with the original alignment of the highway taking shape in 1926.

Creating the modern, efficient, paved, four-lane highway travelers enjoy across Iowa today, however, took decades to create, Farr said. The road was often re-aligned throughout its history, and much of it was gravel for part of the highway’s history. “There are still little sections of the 1926 alignment of Highway 20 outside of Early and Fort Dodge that still are gravel,” Farr noted.

Speaking of Fort Dodge, this Highway 20 city has an unforgettable connection to Cardiff, New York, another Highway 20 town where one of the greatest hoaxes of the nineteenth century took place.

It all started when Stubb Newell of Cardiff, New York, needed a new well. On Oct. 16, 1869, Newell directed two well diggers to a spot he selected behind his barn. The men dug 3 feet and hit something solid. They uncovered a huge stone foot. As they dug more, an entire body of a man emerged. Two days later, a large tent was placed over the 10-foot stone man and crowds of nearly 200 to 500 people a day paid 50 cents to see this giant. Scientists, philosophers and the clergy attended and were challenged in their beliefs, noted the Historic US Route 20 Association website.

Legendary showman P.T. Barnum offered $60,000 for the giant but was turned down. Soon, however, the hoax came to light when people recalled a man named George Hull (a cousin of Newell) had visited a gypsum mine at Fort Dodge in 1868. He commissioned a 5-ton block to be used to carve a statue of Abraham Lincoln. The block of gypsum was shipped to Chicago and carved into this giant man. The carving’s surface was treated with acids and picked at with needles to give it an antiquated look. It was then shipped and buried in New York.

Today, the giant rests at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York. In 1969, a replica was created from the same gypsum quarry and is on display at the Fort Museum in Fort Dodge.
These types of stories offer a unique perspective of Highway 20, which Farr has traveled from coast to coast. “I want to bring people back into small town America, to shop locally and support local businesses to boost economic development in communities that may be bypassed by interstate highways or other more popular routes.”

Gaining a new perspective of Highway 20
Highway 20 is also distinguished by a number of other noteworthy distinctions, including:

• Ties to some of America’s major and mid-sized cities. Highway 20 includes Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and Boise.

• A connection to five presidents. “Highway 20 is a presidential route,” said Farr, citing George Washington as well as Abraham Lincoln, whose famous debates with political rival Stephen Douglas took place in Freeport, Illinois. Highway 20 is also connected Galena, Illinois, where President Ulysses S. Grant had a home. In northern Ohio, Highway 20 passes through Freemont, home of President Rutherford B. Hayes, who served from 1877 to 1881, oversaw the end of Reconstruction and attempted to reconcile the divisions left from the Civil War. Cleveland, Ohio, honors President James Garfield, who was elected president in 1881 but whose service was cut short after 200 days in office when he was assassinated and later died on September 19, 1881.

• The women’s movement organized along the future Highway 20. The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Held in July 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, the meeting launched the women’s suffrage movement, which more than seven decades later ensured women the right to vote.

• Highway 20 name is more than just name. In 1925, a system of numbered highways debuted in America to replace the jumbled, confusing mess of named auto trails. “Routes with a zero at the end, like Route 20, were transcontinental routes,” said Farr, author of the book “Historic Route 20: A Journey Across America’s Longest Highway.” “Also, east-west routes have even numbers, while north-south routes have odd numbers.”

• Iowa attractions abound along Highway 20. Spanning roughly 330 miles across Iowa from Dubuque to Sioux City, Highway 20 offers plenty to see and do, Farr said. A few options include Dyersville, home of the famous Field of Dreams movie site, the National Farm Toy Museum and the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier; Independence, home of the Heartland Acres Agribition Center, which connects visitors to the past, present and future of Iowa agriculture; Sac County, with its famous barn quilt trail and world’s largest popcorn ball in Sac City and Sioux City, with its rich history related to the journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition nearly 250 years ago.

Historic Route 20 sign near Cushing, Iowa

While the first Historic Route 20 sign was placed in Painesville, Ohio, in 2014, Cushing became the first Iowa community to display one of the distinctive signs. This sign greets visitors as they enter the small Woodbury County town from the east on the old route of Highway 20.

It’s interesting to note that bypasses started being built along Highway 20 almost from the start, starting in Massachusetts in the late 1920s. By the 1950s, bypasses in Iowa rerouted Highway 20 out of Farley in eastern Iowa. The trend hasn’t stopped since then. In recent years, communities along historic Highway 20 have been installing signs to denote their unique place along the route. While the first Historic Route 20 sign was placed in Painesville, Ohio, in 2014, Cushing became the first Iowa community to display one of the distinctive signs. This sign greets visitors as they enter the small Woodbury County town from the east on the old route of Highway 20.

While efficient transportation has its place, Farr encourages travelers venture off the interstates and four-lane Highway 20, explore the nearby towns and rural areas and see some the best of America. “Highway 20 is like a companion,” said Farr, who is promoting the new slogan “It’s time to be 20 again.” “This road will take you home.”

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby. 

DNA Helps Sailor Killed at Pearl Harbor Return to His Family

It was the telegram no family wanted to receive. “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Bernard Vincent Doyle, seaman second class, U.S. Navy, is missing following action in the performance of his duty and in service of his country.”

The telegram, dated December 20, 1941, was sent to Doyle’s father, John. Weeks later it was confirmed that Bernard “Barney” Doyle, a 19-year-old from Red Cloud, Nebraska, had been killed in action while serving on the battleship USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The loss still lingers. “My brother was the most caring person I knew,” said Fran Nutter, 94, Doyle’s younger sister who has lived in Lake City since 1947. “He was always happy, and everyone liked him.”

Bernard Doyle, sailor, USS Oklahoma, killed in action at Pearl Harbor

Bernard Doyle, sailor, USS Oklahoma, killed in action at Pearl Harbor

Doyle was buried with full military honors at the Lake City Cemetery around noon on October 13, 2018, following a Mass of the Christian burial at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lake City at 11 a.m. High-ranking members of the U.S. Navy attended the services, which were open to the public.

While Doyle’s remains had been classified as non-recoverable, a new chapter in his story is being written, thanks to advances in DNA technology that allowed his remains to be identified and returned to his family. Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered that all flags in Iowa fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on October 13 to honor Doyle.

All this support is comforting to Nutter and her family. “I always kept Bernard’s picture on display in my home,” she said. “My family thinks he’s a hero.”

Service and sacrifice
Bernard Doyle was born in Esbon, Kansas, on January 17, 1922, and grew up on a farm with his six brothers and sisters. The family lived in south-central Nebraska, not far from where their grandfather John Doyle homesteaded in Kansas, said Nutter, who remembers the hardships of the Great Depression. “Those were the days when Dad put molasses on tumbleweeds for the cattle to eat.”

After graduating from Red Cloud High School in 1940, Bernard Doyle enlisted in the U.S. Navy on May 28, 1940, in Omaha. He was later assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The USS Oklahoma arrived in Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1940, one year and one day before to the fateful attack. The USS Oklahoma was on Battleship Row on the morning of December 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. The Japanese used dive–bombers, fighter–bombers and torpedo planes to sink nine ships, including five battleships.

The crew of the USS Oklahoma did everything they could to fight back, according to the official website of the USS Oklahoma. In the first 10 minutes of the battle, though, eight torpedoes hit the USS Oklahoma, and she began to capsize. A ninth torpedo hit her as she sunk in the mud.

More than 2,400 Americans died during the Pearl Harbor attacks, including 429 men on the USS Oklahoma. In the aftermath of the tragedy, however, families back home didn’t know if their loved ones had survived or perished.

“After I heard the news, I had a feeling my brother would be okay,” said Nutter, who was working at an ammunition depot in Denver, Colorado, at the time. “I had no idea how serious things really were.”

Fran Nutter displays her older brother Bernard's picture and his Purple Heart.

Fran Nutter displays her older brother Bernard’s picture and his Purple Heart.

In the weeks following the Pearl Harbor attack, the remains of men lost aboard the USS Oklahoma were recovered, and 35 were identified. Doyle was not among them, though. “For two months, my parents had no word about my brother’s fate,” said Nutter, who has a note her parents wrote to the Navy on February 10, 1942.

John and Mary Ellen Doyle’s pain is clear in the letter, which reads, “Others from Red Cloud, Nebr., whose sons were there have heard concerning them. We ask you to please give the matter your immediate attention.”

“You can almost sense the desperation in my mother’s letter,” Nutter said.

By Feb. 13, 1942, Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs notified the Doyle family that “after an exhaustive search, it has been found impossible to locate your son…and he has therefore been officially declared to have lost his life in the service of his country as of Dec. 7, 1941.”

Doyle and hundreds of other “unknowns” were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii. “My mother accepted that this was God’s way of taking my brother,” Nutter said. “I never thought Bernard would be found, and I wondered what he went through in his last moments.”

All four of Nutter’s brothers, including Johnnie, Bernard, Eugene and Robert, served in various branches of the military during World War 2, including the Army, Navy and Marines. Of the four, only Bernard Doyle never returned.

“I know for a fact that Bernard’s death inspired my brother Eugene to enlist,” said Nutter, who added that Eugene Doyle was a 17-year-old high school student at the time and needed his parents’ consent.

“I thank God”
Memories of Bernard Doyle, who was awarded the Purple Heart, never faded among his family. When Nutter and her late husband, Dean, traveled to Hawaii for their 45th wedding anniversary in the late 1980s, they visited the Punchbowl and saw Bernard Doyle’s name on a memorial. “I didn’t know his name was there, and I started to cry,” Nutter said.

By 2003, the U.S. military started trying to identify individual remains of U.S. service members killed at Pearl Harbor. The process was difficult, however, since DNA technology was not as advanced as it is today. Also, remains of deceased service members were sometimes mixed together. In some cases, the partial remains of more than 100 service members were placed together in one casket.

As DNA technology advanced, the military renewed efforts to identify those killed at Pearl Harbor. In 2015, all remaining caskets at the Punchbowl that were associated with the USS Oklahoma were exhumed. The remains were transferred to laboratories in Hawaii and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

In 2015, a representative from the military called Nutter to update her and send her a DNA kit. Nutter and various family members, including her daughter Deanne Grantham of Lake City, didn’t hesitate to provide DNA samples. “I thought, ‘Good, we’re on the right track,’” Nutter said.

Deanne Grantham (left) and her sister Pat Albright of Lake City, Iowa, review information supplied about their uncle from the U.S. Navy.

Deanne Grantham (left) and her sister Pat Albright of Lake City, Iowa, review information supplied about their uncle from the U.S. Navy.

Doyle was positively identified by dental remains and an incomplete skeleton in very good condition, said Chief DeShannon Beaty with the U.S. Navy, who visited Nutter and her family in Lake City in August 2018 to share the findings. “It’s interesting and humbling to be part of this,” said Beaty, who noted that some families like the Nutters embrace this history, while others show little interest in the identification of their ancestor’s remains.

Nutter wonders if Doyle might have become a teacher had he lived. “He was so patient,” she said.

In 2017, the family purchased a headstone for Bernard Doyle. Now he’ll be honored properly during the October 13 ceremony, said Nutter, who has gained a new appreciation for the U.S. military after going through this experience. “I thank God so many times for everyone who helped identify my brother so we could bring him home.”

Darcy’s note: It was an honor to share this story of the Nutter family and Bernard Doyle, since the family members are close friends of mine. This article originally ran in the Fort Dodge Messenger. Thank you to all our servicemen and women who protect America. 

 

 

The funeral for sailor Bernard Doyle, killed at Pearl Harbor, was held Oct. 13, 2018, in Lake City, Iowa, with full military honors.

The funeral for sailor Bernard Doyle, killed at Pearl Harbor, was held Oct. 13, 2018, in Lake City, Iowa, with full military honors.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby.